In Chapter 5 of Love Wins--"Dying to Live"--Rob Bell wrestles with the proper scope of the gospel.
Bell is trying to address the classic Protestant error of reducing salvation to a private transaction between the individual and God. Such a reduction results in a couple of well-known theological distortions. A couple of those distortions:
1. The private individualistic focus neglects the epic sweep of the great drama of salvation recounted in the bible. For example, the individual focus effectively negates the entire Old Testament. All that is just so much preamble. More, the individualized focus effectively negates the life and teachings of Jesus. The Incarnation has so salvific implications (other than getting Jesus here to die). Neither does the teachings of Jesus such as the Sermon on the Mount. Even worse, it's contended that the Sermon on the Mount isn't even for the church! Given that the Sermon occurred before Jesus's heartbeat stopped, the Sermon on the Mount (along with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Matthew 25, and the Golden Rule) was all a part of the "Old Law" which Christians can safely ignore.
What a relief!
But it get worse. The individualistic focus also ignores the salvific effects of the resurrection. The only thing that matters is the death of Jesus as a substitutionary sacrifice.
2. The individualistic focus neglects the cosmic scope of the gospel. It ignores the fact that God has an interest in rescuing Creation as Creation from its bondage to futility.
Romans 8.19-23Is Jesus's blood necessary to save, say, trees?
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
Salvation isn't just about saving souls from hell. It's about the restoration of all things, Creation included:
Colossians 1.15-203. Finally, although Bell doesn't focus on this, the private individualistic focus ignores the political implications of the gospel. In the privatized view salvation is an issue of judgment between you and God. Thus, once God forgives you, that's that. You're saved. Salvation in this case has little to say about your allegiance to the Principalities and Powers and bondage to death. Salvation has been effectively privatized, pietized (I just made that word up) and depoliticized. Meaning? Meaning that you get to go to heaven and nothing else much changes or matters.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Bell, as do many of us, has a grander view of salvation. A grander view of the biblical story. A grander view of the birth, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus. A grander view of the scope of salvation. A grander view of the "abundant life", in this life as well as the next.
Two quotes from Chapter 5 of Love Wins:
When people say that Jesus came to die on the cross so that we can have a relationship with God, yes, that is true. But that explanation as the first explanation puts us at the center. For the first Christians, the story was, first and foremost, bigger, grander. More massive. When Jesus is presented only as the answer that saves individuals from their sin and death, we run the risk of shrinking the Gospel down to something just for humans, when God has inaugurated a movement in Jesus's resurrection to renew, restore, and reconcile everything "on earth or in heaven" (Col. 1), just as God originally intended it. The powers of death and destruction have been defeated on the most epic scale imaginable. Individuals are then invited to see their story in the context of a far larger story, one that includes all of creation....How many people, if you were to ask them why they've left church, would give an answer something along the lines of, "It's just so...small"?
A gospel that leaves out its cosmic scope will always feel small.
A gospel that has as its chief message avoiding hell or not sinning will never be the full story.
A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the "in-ness" of one group at the expense of the "out-ness" of another group will not be true to the story that includes "all things and people in heaven and on earth."